House & Home: Restored cottage in Wirksworth, Derbyshire
PUBLISHED: 12:14 29 March 2011 | UPDATED: 19:06 20 February 2013
Penny Baddeley visits Alex Cave who, with her husband Dave, has restored a cottage in Wirksworth to create their perfect family home
When Alex Cave made the snap decision to buy her beloved period property in the small county town of Wirksworth it raised a few eyebrows within her family circle.
Her parents questioned the move and even her eminently practical husband Dave expressed surprise for Alexs unbridled passion for the somewhat dilapidated Edwardian house. It was an absolute wreck, Alex recalled.
But mother-of-two and university archivist Alex had spotted the huge potential in the former quarry workers residence on Cromford Road and felt she couldnt resist the challenge to bring it back to life.
It was old and neglected. It had no central heating and was damp. The previous very elderly resident had been a heavy smoker and there was a sticky residue of nicotine everywhere, said Alex. But when I first walked through the door I just loved it. I could see that all the original features were still there. We had always wanted a period house and they do not come onto the market very often and very rarely on Cromford Road. And when we looked at the deeds it had not changed hands many times which I think is a testament to the house that people love living here.
Alex and Dave bought the house in early 2003 and began a particularly devoted labour of love with what has become an immaculately-restored, light infused, happy family home. First the couple tackled layer on layer of old wall paper, which had been superimposed on every single room in the house.
As we were stripping it off it was as if we were moving through decade after decade. We visited the seventies, fifties then forties before getting back to the original colours on the plaster which were very dark green, with a blood red border under the cornice. It was of its time.
Then the couple discovered that the dense wall coverings had been the sole support for the crumbling plasterwork beneath. They laboured after work and at weekends to remove the plaster.
Two years later Dave, a landscape garden designer, and Alex were making wedding plans and mixing plaster.
When most brides-to-be are having things like massages and hair cuts we were finishing taking off the plaster in our bedroom. I had a face mask of brick dust and then I came off the ladder and put my foot through the ceiling! said Alex.
The plaster boarding and plastering were finally finished one day before the couples wedding on 18th December 2004.
Alex set about designing her lounge around the rooms most attractive aspect the triple bay window which gains impact from the original deep cornicing and high ceiling. Roman blinds were made up locally in Wirksworth, from a stunning off-white Sanderson fabric featuring a floral print in grey and black. Taking her cue from that colourway, the room was painted white and furnished with plain white sofas, which confers a Scandinavian feel.
Alex said: Our light is soft and muted, like Scandinavian light, so white works well. On sunny afternoons the room is flooded with light, and the effect is amplified by the light colour scheme.
The floor of engineered oak, laid by Dave and his brother, adds natural warmth to the peaceful and serene lounge. I love this room, says Alex. I love its light, its proportions and the high ceilings.
Working on a tight budget for the house, Alex picked up furniture locally from junk shops and some from auctions at Cumbria, where she and Dave both lived for many years previous to settling in Derbyshire.
A quirky feature is added with the retention of a pair of old wooden step ladders left in the house by the previous resident. These are inventively employed as a table/ bookshelf. To use, Alex ripped off their faux leather padding but left them unpainted. I like the sense of history and the idea of re-using objects that were left in the house and used by former inhabitants she said
Indeed Alex and Dave have re-used several items of furniture left abandoned in their house, including a set of two chests of drawers in their bedroom.
Their bedroom is a homage to white, with white painted walls and white painted floorboards. The Laura Ashley bed is covered in white bedding giving the overall effect of peace and calm. I have a thing about white, admitted Alex. I love living in light places!
But although the room has a fresh and clean palette this was the one room Alex would have liked to preserve in its original colour scheme. When we stripped back the walls we found a beautiful mural of hand-painted exotic birds in a cage. It was just gorgeous and a real surprise. If I could have framed that I would have done.
The kitchen was the last part of the house to be tackled. For four long years Alex had struggled with an old electric cooker and a workmans work bench. But when she became pregnant with her first child, Sam, this provided an incentive for action. Weddings and children seem to have provided deadlines for us in terms of working within the house, said working mum Alex.
A bespoke kitchen was fitted by Pre-Eminence of Matlock, who designed the fittings to Alexs specification. The units were finished in Farrow and Ball Slipper Satin with fifties-style cupboard catches sourced by Dave and Alex.
My luxury is my Smeg cooker! says Alex who now enjoys spending time in the kitchen with her expanding family eldest son Sam and newborn Joe.
The country but contemporary feel of the kitchen is emphasised by a Cumbrian slate floor, which was laid by Dave whose background was in farming and dry stone-walling before becoming a landscape garden designer.
My husband has an innate practicality says Alex. A lot of the work in the house is testament to his skills. As well as the work indoors such as the plaster boarding and plastering, he
re-rendered the back of the house, put up new fascias, guttering and re-roofed the whole house!
Alexs second pregnancy dictated further adaptations to the house. Sams large bedroom was partitioned to provide a nursery for Joe. Then Dave took on a project to convert the attic into a new Scandinavian-style bedroom a work still in progress.
In this way, the life of the family and the life of the house have become infinitely intertwined for Alex and she has become deeply emotionally attached to the bricks and mortar.
I love this house. Milestones in our lives have become intertwined with projects on the house. When I think of our wedding I think of when we finished the plastering. When I think of the birth of Sam I think of doing the kitchen and now with the birth of Joe we are working on the attic. I set off for my wedding from this house and when my children were born I brought them here. This house is as important a part of the family as the people in it.